Santa, or the catman, was sitting on the wooden bench three days after our first meeting, when Mother and I were coming back from the post office. We had taken a train, as the nearest post office was about a mile away and she wasn’t eager to take a long walk. I had waved my hand in silent greeting as we passed and he had waved right back. Thinking now about the train ride with mother nearly six years ago had me recalling a strange dream I had last week. It was all about a ride of some sort, and it seemed to have happened to another girl at some time, in another place. And I realize that I could relate to this girl’s otherworldly experience. Feelings of trepidation and wariness grip me, even as I am standing close to the front door, from where its confines beyond provided some refuge and comfort. What could it all mean? I feel that this may have triggered off the constant reference to the catman and the box he gave me nearly six years ago.

Two figures seem to stand a few meters apart and they appear to weave in and out in the misty shadows, with its surrounding dulling light. Now the two figures are engaged in an intense communication that only both of them could understand and participate in. They appear to be in a trance-like state as they both lift their hands and point towards a particular direction. It appears puzzling, though, as I watch with a certain keenness bordering on desperation. But all I see is a huge truck that seems to bear down like a giant tetrapod emerging from the sea. I clamber back onto what seems like a curb, watching as though entranced. The two figures seem to attach themselves to the truck, but are not actually on it as they seem to continue their weaving movements in and out of the truck, even as it roars past.

I feel a sheen of sweat appear on my forehead as the dream runs through my mind again. What could it all mean? There is no obvious answer, of course. And I don’t pretend I understand any part of it, either. I hesitate in front of the door, the pizza box I had in my hand turning suddenly light as thoughts about the dream weigh heavily on my mind. I think of the other box and immediately feel some assurance. The spirit of Basil seems to enshroud me like a transparent, magical cloak, suffusing my whole being with hope and strength.

It’s kind of funny how I started referring to him (Santa) as the catman. However, it was no real surprise, as I had envisioned him subconsciously as having the same refined mannerisms as could be observed in a well-brought-up cat. Come to think of it, one could project his or her own personality onto any dog or cat kept as a companion. And it had been no different with the catman. So, the name—catman—had kind of stuck as a way of my reference to him. I suppose it is just… “Hey! Is that you, Leia?” Mother asks with a lilt in her voice as I finally open the front door.

Obviously, she must have heard the creaking sound of the old wooden door. “Yes, I’m back with the pizza, mother,” I call out in reply. As I make my way towards the living room, my thoughts turn again to the catman. My thoughts this evening are totally centered on him. Could be an omen of sorts. I place the box on the coffee table. Mother, with hair tied in a towel and in her old grey shaggy robe, is sitting on a settee, looking over some old magazines.

My room is awash with light from an old vintage hurricane accent lamp. I had left it on before stepping out nearly an hour ago and the candle is almost gone. I love the comforting glow it provides. Moving to the nearly transparent window blinds, made of mocha-colored cotton, trimmed in old lace, I remember the box that had me thinking of the catman this evening. Hastily drawing them a bit open to allow some air in, I move to the old cabinet covered with a simple calico material embroidered with maple leaves of green and peach colors. I gently pull the drawer open to observe the wooden box with the crafted cherubs. Then I hastily put it back, closing the drawer.

My glance strays towards the mirror directly above the cabinet and I thoughtfully study the reflected image looking back at me. I have an oval face with a widow’s peak, courtesy of my mother’s heritage. She has some Italian ancestry, though she’s African-American. Dad had been a Scandinavian native. I hadn’t inherited Dad’s blondeness, but my brothers had. Mine is brunette. I seem to look more mature at my age. I am 16, nearly turning 17, but I looked about 20. But this doesn’t bother me in the least. Now, a disquieting thought steals into my mind. How could two figures seem to attach themselves to the truck, but are not actually on it even as they continued their weaving movements as the truck whipped through them? Could they be angels? I give a silent shudder as I turn away from the mirror.

I go back to the living room. Mother is still sitting on the settee and is now watching TV. The box of pizza has been opened and there is a teensy-weensy bit of a slice in a disposable plate. A can of Sprite rests on a coaster on the coffee table. I grab a disposable plate and put in two slices, then move towards the nearly beat-up refrigerator to grab a can of Pepsi. Putting all these in a tray, I murmur some excuses to Mum, making my way back to my room. I needed some time alone.

Some loud cheers and other sounds reach me an hour later and I realize that my brothers are back. The meeting of the Crusaders has obviously ended. I had already finished my meal and am listening to some music from my small radio. It is soothing, as it provides some distraction away from the eerie thoughts of trucks that emerge like some mysterious form of a gigantic tetrapod intent on a private mission.

I lie flat on my back, my head cradled in a stuffed down pillow covered with cotton linen with a faded pink floral pattern. The surrounding softness suddenly creates a deeper impression on me about the two angel-like figures that appeared in the pale light. Some inner light seemed to emanate from them without improving the dullness of the surrounding brightness. Different sources of light, but with contrasting effects. It appeared rather puzzling that the truck actually moved through them. Perhaps the two figures weren’t real.

Well, she had sat on the wooden bench with the catman nearly two weeks after their first meeting. Mother had asked her to pick some flowers, zinnia and daisies, which were a colorful combination of white, red, pink, and different shades of yellow from the garden. Then she had seen him. She had felt elated and had hurriedly gone back into the house to put the flowers in three different vases, placed strategically at three different vantage points of the living room.

The catman had been happy to see her as well and she had thought of inviting him to her house to meet the rest of her family, but had changed her mind. Mum would probably freak out. He still looked like Santa, and that made him more dependable than ever. He was also easy to talk to and she had confided in him a little about her father and how he had left early one morning without coming back, particularly when they had realized later that he had taken his small bag with him.

“Mother had cried for weeks,” she had told Santa, sounding forlorn. “We thought she was going to lose it. But apparently, she was stronger than we thought.” The catman (Santa) had nodded in understanding and had replied that it was a good sign. Then he had got up suddenly to say that he had to go inside and get something. He had gone before she could give a reply. Giving a mental shrug, she had thought of Basil and had wondered if he was going to bring the folded paper out again.

He had come back some minutes later, but without the folded paper. Then he had said mysteriously, “Well, I have something to show you.” He brought out a small box from his shirt pocket. He was wearing a red and white plaid cotton shirt with brown khakis. He had given the box to her with his usual genial smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling. It looked like some sort of priceless antique, and I wondered about the reason he brought it out to show me.

“I’ve always kept it with me,” the catman had said, holding up the box. “I feel somehow that Basil would have wanted me to give it to you.” I was taken aback, putting it mildly. Somehow, I knew that he was not only referring to the box, but what was inside it. Could it be the medal that Basil was wearing on his collar? I questioned silently in my mind as I was overcome with a feeling of dizziness. I knew that this was at least a piece of Basil that he could hold onto and it had seemed thoughtless of me to just accept it from him like that.

I had felt a deep battle within me, which I was bound to lose, for a deep emotional attachment to Basil happened to occur right at that point. It had seemed spiritual and amazing. It was as if Basil was pressing me on to take what his master offered. “Go ahead. Open it,” the catman had urged with a broad grin, like Santa would have given a kid, impatient on knowing what his gift packages contained. Perhaps I was impatient to learn of what the box contained. But I was past caring.

Hands shaking, I had tried to hold onto the ornate box like it was some sort of lifeline. Raising a bushy gray brow in amusement at my awkwardness in trying to open the box, I finally succeeded. Lo and behold, there was the red collar with the medal, nestled on a bed of matching red satin. The medal had a perfect engravement of the letter ‘B’ on it. My eyes had filled and I blinked rapidly, trying so hard to chase away the tears. “It’s okay to cry, you know,” the catman had said gently.

Nodding wordlessly as the catman offered some words of comfort, I had closed the box gently. “I want you to understand that Basil would be glad that you have the medal now,” he said with a knowing wink. “It’s my good luck charm,” I had declared solemnly and he had agreed with a nod, pleased at my statement. We spoke of other things afterwards. Then I had taken my leave after exchanging a brief hug with him. I know that Mother would have balked at this, but this was my Santa, the catman and my friend.

Shivering suddenly as a cold draft sweeps into the room, Kate gets up with a fluid-like movement to draw the window blinds close. She could hear the loud voices coming from her brothers’ room. Smiling fondly at their exuberance and near-boorish behavior, she flops back on the bed, clad in an old floor-length nightgown with a high neck. This should keep out the cold, she thought. She hears a knock on her door and knew it had to be one of her brothers.

There he stands in front of her, all six-foot-one of him. And he was grinning like someone who had won the lottery. “So, how did the meeting go tonight?” she had asked without any preamble. Luke, her brother, suddenly gives a wicked wink as he said, “Is that how you greet an active crusader, so intent on saving the world and most of all, a little, helpless, brunette with such an enviable candor?” She pulls her nose at him in reply.

But she’s really proud of him and Arthur. They had managed to get nearly the whole community in Riverdale involved in the campaign against drunk driving. This campaign was started especially in memory of their beloved dog, a Labrador that was killed by a drunk driver, who had no business getting behind the wheel of a car, one night, nearly six years ago. The incident had been almost as devastating as Father’s sudden disappearance and betrayal had been.

“The boys were great tonight, sis,” Luke continues with a grin, as he sits on a small stool. We even had a goodwill message from the mayor. This was a welcome break. Perhaps other nearby communities could become involved as well. Kate taps him on the shoulder. “Whoa, slow down, bro. This is great news and I am super excited,” she says. Luke gives a small nod, adding, “You have been there for us, sis, and I am super glad how everything’s turning out.” They talk about other related events before he kisses her goodnight on both cheeks.


It must have been several minutes later as I was stirred reluctantly awake by mother as she pops in briefly, saying goodnight. I murmur, “Night, night,” in reply. The vintage hurricane accent lamp burns steadily, keeping the room warm and cozy. We are saving on energy by using lightbulbs less frequently, as we abhor any form of waste of energy. This is kind on the wallet, too, lowering our bills. I get up to put out the light from the burning lamp, then go back to my interrupted sleep. But I was unsuccessful as thoughts of Isidore filled my mind.

The vigil held on behalf of Isidore, our beloved Lab, seemed like only yesterday, as I feel the familiar pang of loss each time I remembered him. Nearly all the neighbors had gathered down the sidewalk. Many had hugged teddy bears to themselves, which they laid at a small mound of earth and gravel, with a small crudely crafted stick holding a picture of him. There were lots of flowers offered by thoughtful and sympathetic individuals, and many candles, too. It had been so melancholic.

Later that night, they had sat down with Mother at the dining table and held a private vigil for Isidore. They had all been heartbroken and had grieved quietly and privately. She hadn’t even shared that story with the catman. And she believes her brothers also kept that private vigil to themselves, too. It was a mark of respect, they felt. It had rained heavily later that night, and by morning, all the teddy bears had become soggy and covered in mud and dirt. The flowers, too.

Taking a walk down the park a week later, after the episode with the two street urchins whom had accosted her as she went out to buy a box of pizza, Kate gives a small start as she nearly bumps into a figure standing in her path. It is morning and she has just finished her breakfast of blueberry pancakes, beef sandwiches, and tea. She was overcome with nervousness and this threatened to void her stomach of its recent contents. What is happening here?

The figure—a burly looking male of the same age as her brothers—gave a huge grin at her feeling of discomfort. “Hey! I mean no harm. But my advice? Always look where you are headed. You could bump into a tree the way you were going, and that would have been really bad.” Kate’s immediate reaction was to lash out with an angry retort, but decided against it. She replied rather coolly, “Point noted! Please, may I be allowed to continue with my walk?”

The stranger raises both hands in mock surrender, saying, “But of course. No worries. See ya around.” She gives a rude snort as she walks quickly away, trying to keep as much distance between them as possible. But her action seems meaningless as they were headed in opposite directions. She glances back after a few minutes later as a sudden thought occurs to her. There was something about the young man she met just now. And what was a little worrisome was that he reminded her of someone familiar. Then she gave a silent shrug as she continued walking down the deer trail.

She met a few people and waved at the ones she recognized. It’s a bright morning, suitable for walks and friendly banter, not for any form of unpleasantness. She has some regrets about her behavior towards the stranger she met some minutes ago. She’s usually not so riled up. And come to think of it, she had been the one at fault. She was clearly not watching where she was going. Period. Perhaps she could offer her sincere apologies if they met again. And surprisingly, this happened sooner than she thought.

It had been quite a while since she had the dream, about the two angel figures riding on, or rather weaving in and out of a moving truck. Weird! Well, those were angels and not humans, so they couldn’t be hurt by the truck. Now, if she were an angel perhaps, she could have somewhat prevented Isidore’s fatal accident, and maybe she would have been able to bring Dad back home. A silent tear rolls down her cheek and she swipes away at it impatiently. She’s clearly losing it. Imagine crying over some strange dream.

Perhaps she could call Sally and invite her to a game of Monopoly later this evening. She absolutely needed some cheering up. Jeez; all this week she had done nothing but mope and think occasionally of Isidore and Dad. She still misses him, even though it’s been ages since he left them without a trace. She’s thankful that the increased pace of work at a grocery store, where she was employed part-time, helped to ward off some of these thoughts that often left her bleeding inside. She gives a tired yawn as she opens a book to read. She’s alone in the house as Mother and her brothers have gone to work. She has the afternoon shift tomorrow at the grocery store.

Looking up towards the sheer window blinds in her room as the sudden wind causes them to billow out, Kate draws in her breath quickly as she sees a huddled figure on a wooden bench, right opposite the house. Not believing her eyes, she hurries outside without any thought to her actions, but the realization that he is here. She recognizes the catman, only that he’s much older. And he seems to recognize her, too. She gives him a fierce hug, as though she was still the same girl of nearly six years ago, when she was just eleven, and not the matured teenager that she has become. Then a greater surprise seems to lie in wait for her, as a young man walks up to them just then, and Kate nearly dies of embarrassment. He was the person she had been rude to, a few weeks back, while taking a walk in the morning. “Meet my nephew, Kate,” the catman says, with his usual genial smile.


For all installments of “Remembering the Catman,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1